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Chalk Talk: Who will be Bears' breakout player?

Wondering about a player, a past game or another issue involving the Bears? Senior writer Larry Mayer answers a variety of questions from fans on

If you had to pick a breakout player for this season, who would it be?
Ron K.
Tullahoma, Tennessee

I'm not sure if inside linebacker Roquan Smith would qualify because he has already performed well; he was named a Pro Bowl alternate as a rookie in 2018. But I will choose the third-year pro as the answer to your question, nonetheless. Smith has shown flashes of becoming a star, and he's extremely motivated to take his game to the next level. And that's exactly what I expect him to do in 2020 in terms of generating impact plays. It's very much in line with what inside linebackers coach Mark DeLeone is expecting from Smith as well. Here's what DeLeone said about the 2018 first-round draft pick in June: "Ro played some really good football last year; I don't want that to get lost in the shuffle. He had some excellent games and I think the big thing this year is we've got to make that consistent and have that be every game. This is a big year for him. I do feel like there's a gradual level where he's getting better and I think going into Year 3 he's going to have a chance to have a breakout year this year."

How much of a difference do you think a healthy Akiem Hicks will make this season on the Bears defense? I think he's one of the most underrated players in the NFL.
Ross L.

I believe that having a healthy Akiem Hicks back on the Bears defense this season will be absolutely huge. Since he signed with the Bears as a free agent in 2016, Hicks has proven to be one of the team's most valuable players. Everything on defense starts up front on the line with his ability to stop the run and pressure the quarterback. At 6-4 and 352 pounds, he's very difficult to move. Hicks was a major factor in the defense's success in 2018 when he was voted to the Pro Bowl while helping the Bears win the NFC North. And last year he was clearly missed when he was limited to six games due to knee and elbow injuries. Here's what defensive line coach Jay Rodgers recently said about Hicks: "We know he's a dominant player inside. He creates a lot of problems for a lot of people. He's a mismatch for a lot of guards and centers and sometimes tackles as well. And those are the things that elevate your front—guys like him who are able to just dominate at his spot."

I know that Walter Payton threw several touchdown passes during his great career with the Bears. Which teammate caught the most TD tosses from Sweetness?
Peter R.
Dublin, Ohio

Walter Payton truly could do it all on the football field. The Hall of Fame running back completed 11 of 34 passes for 331 yards and eight touchdowns during his remarkable 13-year career with the Bears. Interestingly, four teammates all caught two TD passes from Payton: receiver Brian Baschnagel in 1979 and 1982 games against the Vikings (54 yards) and Seahawks (38 yards); receiver Willie Gault in the same 1983 contest versus the Saints (56 and 21 yards); quarterback Jim McMahon in 1983 and 1985 games against the Rams (18 yards) and Redskins (13 yards); and fullback Matt Suhey in 1984 contests versus the Seahawks (3 yards) and Packers (2 yards). Payton threw a ninth touchdown pass in a 1984 playoff win over the Redskins, a 19-yarder to tight end Pat Dunsmore.

Chalk Talk features fan questions multiple times each week. Email your question to Larry.

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